Saturday, August 1, 2020

Decorate Old World Style With Beautiful Antique Harps

There is nothing that adds more gracefulness to an old world interior than the presence of a harp. I covet one for myself and am always keeping an eye out for an affordable one. Needless to say I have been looking for a looooong time.....but there is always tomorrow. If you love them too, I hope you will enjoy the images I have gathered to make your mouths water!!

The harp is one of the oldest musical instruments in the world. Since wall paintings in ancient Egyptian tombs show a musical instrument resembling a hunter's bow, it appears that the earliest harps were more than likely developed from the bow.

The antique harps featured in this blog will be those of the 18th century. The single action harp achieved great popularity throughout the 18th century and was favored in the French Court by it's most recognized celebrity of the time, Marie Antoinette, who did play the instrument. 

The harps of this period were gilded and hand painted as well as beautifully decorated with relief carvings. These harps were adored musical instruments and a must have for the magnificent salons on the day.  They were equally prized as extraordinary pieces of furniture......a pièce de résistance, and presented as focal points in the 18th century interiors. 

Typical of the Rococo period, exuberant decoration with an abundance of swooping curves and counter curves were usually seen on legs of chairs, tables, and other pieces of furniture. The harp fit perfectly into these interiors, not only for it's aesthetic value but also for it's sound. The idea of romance was a huge part of the 18th Century French culture, and the light, airy music of the harp fit right into the theme.

Like many wonderful objects created in the 18th century, the harp and the music performed on it reflected the values of the aristocracy.

Inveraray Castle, via

Antique harps are so beautiful it is no surprise their aesthetically pleasing appearance would make them the odds on favorites to occupy the focal point of a room. The eye is naturally drawn to them.

The harp was displayed in a prominent place because it represented intimacy, sensuality, and romance, important themes of the 18th century.

Marie Antoinette's bed chamber at Versailles is home to one of her exquisite harps. They say the harps made for her were exceptionally beautiful.

Harps were decorated in keeping with trends in furniture design. Almost always placed at the top of the neck was a swirling scroll, a typical Rococo ornament. Harp in the Château d’Abondant.

via Pinterest

The scroll was eventually replaced with a classical column during the Neoclassical era.

For the 18th century French elite, music was a social pleasure that  also exhibited a life of privilege, refinement, and wealth for the home owner. An antique harp such as this was always present.

Music was a huge part of the lives of the upper class because it encouraged social gatherings and parties. Music rooms were socially important and almost always contained a harp. 

via Pinterest

 These fabulous harps were decorated with various techniques such as polychromy, gilding, decoupage, and gilt composition

Harp by Francois Chatelain, 18th century. via

For the wealthy the decorative details of the harps were extraordinary. Soundboards were lavishly decorated with symmetrically placed floral and classical elements Many times the painted decorations would be of a landscape. And the classical acanthus leaves were always present. Usually all wood surfaces were gilded.

1. Michel Garnier - La jeune musicienne, 1788
2. Marquise de Chamillard by Firmin Massot

The harp was a popular prop for portrait painting, usually of women.

With the 18th century came the introduction of the single-action pedal harp. By the beginning of the baroque era there was even a “triple harp” which used three rows of strings in parallel.

Looking through the strings of a beautiful harp in the Hotel Caron de Beaumarchais Paris.

Another view of the same space.

The Petit Trianon,  Photo by Just_Bernard on flickr

Eighteen century homeowners wanted to appear witty and intelligent so certain pieces of furniture were must haves. Game tables meant you were clever at cards and playing a harp required that you could read music and be skilled at playing musical instruments. 

Attingham Park music room with harp.

Only the upper class could afford to study music and purchase these magnificent instruments. Also they could afford to hire musicians if need be. The harp gave the opportunity for the lady of the house to demonstrate her skills which was a really big deal at the time.

Marie Antoinette playing Harp in her Chamber at Versailles." 1469, Jean Baptiste Gautier d'Agoty

For Marie Antoinette, the harp was the perfect way to entertain and perhaps show off for her guests

To entertain guests, performing music on the harp or the harpsichord every evening was a way of life. It was the social activity of the day and could go on for hours.

Château de Canisy

Antique harps just seem to steal the show with all other furnishings acting as supporting cast.

Photo by Kotomi_ flickr

Musée du Palais Lascaris, Nice

The harp was featured as a solo instrument in concerts by many Baroque and Classical composers. They are especially lovely used against an antique tapestry. 

via Pinterest

Being able to play a harp was seen as a sign of refinement and sensuality that could only help a young woman in search of a husband. An 1811 book entitled Regency Etiquette declared that the “shape of the harp is calculated, in every respect, to show a fine figure to advantage,” showcasing the hands and arms, the “gentle motion of a lovely neck,” and “the richly slippered and well-made foot on the pedal stops”.

1. Portrait Of Elizabeth Ewer, Seated In A White Dress With A Yellow Shawl, Playing A Harp, c. 1768-73 by Angelica Kauffmann
2. Antoine-Jean-Joseph-Éléonore Ansiaux (Liège 1764-1840 Paris) | Portrait of Marie-Denise Smits, née Gandolphe

The common thought of the day was that a woman asserted her femininity, fashionability, and high status through the symbolism of the harp.

Harp in the music room at Chateau de Chantilly

via Pinterest

An ebony finished antique harp in the music room of the Nathaniel Russell House, Charleston SC.

Château de Chantilly

Nearly all of the wooden surfaces on this harp are gilded.

1. Arthur William Devis ( 1762–1822) Ann Debonnaire. 1786 Harris Museum
2. Peter Ferdinand Deurer (1777-1844) — Portrait of a Lady with her Harp

These images show that you do not have to own a chateau to create fabulous rooms with antique harps as decor. The quite elegance of this beautiful painted space is the perfect setting for the gracefulness of a harp.

Domino Magazine

The presence of the harp takes this already gorgeous room to another level.

The neutral interiors seem to really make the antique harps stand out.

Versailles: A Private Invitation by Guillame Picon (2018 Edition)

Another of Marie Antoinette's magnificent harps.

1. The Countess of Eglinton -- 1777 -- Sir Joshua Reynolds
2. Portrait de Lady Frances Seymour Conway (1751–1820), comtesse de Lincoln, à la harpe, by William Hoare

via Pinterest

A room just seems to shout refinement and sophistication when there is a harp present.

         Photo by

Unlike the harpsichord, the harp survived as a fashionable instrument through the French Revolution.

via Pinterest

If you are like me, you just want an antique harp purely for decoration. If you intend to play them, I am sure there will need to be some repairs and tuning.

An antique harp is used here in the decor of an Aesthetic Movement interior. During this period there was a return to classical themes.

The extravagance of most surviving 18th century harps appears to be fit for royalty.

Photo by Lauri Beckmans on 

However, the old world home of today still benefits from the harp's presence. My treasure hunting will bring one across my path someday....I just know it. Good luck to you too!!!

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This blog post was published by Lisa Farmer

In the event that I have not credited the correct source of an image, please contact me at and I would be glad to correct it.

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